How can we get our brains to release that much-needed pleasure response again?
We’ve looked at how easy it is to lose a good feeling. A simple change in sensation can derail pleasure. (If you’re just joining us, you can read part one of this series by clicking here). We’ve also discovered that our own perceptions and beliefs can contribute to pleasure loss (to review this concept, click here).
Now we’ve come to the good part! The reason you’ve come back, the reason you’re taking precious moments from your busy life to read this little blog:
How to get the feeling back!
It really is important to have pleasure. How many marriages fail when a partner looks elsewhere for pleasure? It’s a common misconception to think that making a new connection with a different partner will restore pleasure. It’s only partly wrong, though. Making a new connection is essential. The different partner, well, that’s debatable!
The new connections we need are not necessarily with new people. We need to make new connections in our brains. When changes in sensation (like those sprinkler heads) result in a misfire in the pleasure response, our brains need new associations to restore pleasure. It’s neuroscience, but it’s not that complicated:
One neuron reaches out to shake hands with another.
“Pleased to meet you!”
“Likewise, charmed. Let’s meet here again.”
Most of us have heard of Pavlov’s dogs. Ivan Pavlov, a Russian physiologist around the turn of the 20th century, used dogs in his studies of the digestive system. He paired a stimulus (like ringing a bell) with food presentation. Before long, he noted the dogs began to salivate at the mere ringing of the bell, even without the aroma or visual presentation food. The ability to create purposeful connections between the digestive system and the brain became known as “classical conditioning.”
It’s old science now, but still true.
Since then, scientists have discovered much more about brains. We now know that our brains constantly learn–including how to learn better. We also know that natural chemicals in our brains can make us feel excited, good or pleasantly satisfied. Perhaps most relevant to our task of restoring pleasure, scientists who study the brain found that
This is a catchy way of saying that pairing one sensation or movement with another, repeatedly, enhances their function, and eventually, activating one automatically activates the other.
We can re-condition our brain to respond to new stimuli with a pleasurable response!
Try it! Pick something that always makes you feel good. Maybe it’s an Adam Sandler movie. Maybe it’s a sensual time with your partner. Maybe it’s a big slice of Death by Chocolate cake. Now, add a new sensation or movement while you enjoy this activity every time you do it for the next month or two. For example, bring a certain pillow to place on your lap every time you watch a funny movie. You may want to try touching an area on your face during intimacy. Or, if you’re the chocolate lover, play or hum the same piece of music with each bite.
Before long, you’ll find that when you experience the sensation you’ve added to your pleasurable activity, your brain will start sending out that pleasure response! Just picking up that pillow makes you smile. Stroking your cheek in that spot will. . . Your song on the radio will give you the feeling you’ve just had a scrumptious slice of chocolate cake!
Neuroscientists are our friends! They also research methods to enhance new brain cell connections (neuroplasticity). They’ve found that physical and brain exercises boost neuronal growth.
For this week, along with practicing the pairing we just discussed, add some physical exercise to your daily routine. It needn’t be much; just an extra walk around the block, some light resistance work, or a few extra times up and down the stairs. Do this while you’re thinking pleasurable thoughts, and your brain will have more reason to fire up those neuronal connections.
Next week, we’ll discuss more brain exercises we can do to improve our pleasure responses–even if they’re impaired by our own erroneous beliefs. For now, though, you have plenty of things to try. Please join me in a discussion by commenting below.
- How will you be pairing activities to restore pleasure?
- What exercises will you add to your daily routine this week?
- Have you found new connections that restored your pleasure, now or in the past?
“You will show me the path of life; in Your presence is fullness of joy, at Your right hand there are pleasures forevermore.” Psalm 16:11, AMPC